Disasters & Accidents

Japan before earthquakes: resistant constructions and pre-warned population

By Carmen Grau Vila

Tokyo, March 18 (EFE).- Earthquake-proof buildings and a pre-warned citizenry are key to protecting oneself in Japan, a country hit by frequent disasters, the most recent a magnitude 7.4 earthquake in Fukushima this week that left four dead, more than 200 injured and damaged infrastructure.

The archipelago located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the most seismic zone on the planet, is prepared to live with tremors and tsunamis yet avoid serious damages. Japan combines strict building regulations with a preventive culture in its population.

A 1981 law marked a before and after in the country’s anti-seismic construction standards, which have been reinforced in recent decades and are, according to experts, the highest in the world.

The law emerged after a 7.4 earthquake in the Miyagi prefecture, which left 1,000 injured and twenty dead, and for the first time forced all newly built buildings, houses and infrastructure to resist strong earthquakes.

Pillars were reinforced, walls were widened, new materials and glass were invested, among others, but this could not prevent the 1995 Kobe earthquake from affecting previous infrastructure and 6,434 lives were lost, with 40,000 injured and 640,000 buildings damaged.

That same year a new law reinforced the previous one with subsidies to reform old constructions. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami also forced a large part of the northeast coast to be rebuilt. There new buildings have now managed to avoid further damage in Fukushima and Miyagi, devastated at the time.

The Japanese are aware of the importance of protecting themselves inside their homes and tend to use low furniture. They do not like to hang pictures or large lamps and prop up their shelves and televisions with supports.

Protection walls facing the sea were already common in the country decades ago, but after the 2011 tsunami, concrete walls cover a large part of the affected areas and have been raised by meters.

The fishing community of Taro, located in Iwate, had the largest wall in the country since 1965, 10 meters high, but that could not prevent 181 people from dying and more than a thousand buildings from disappearing in the disaster. Today, a new 15-meter wall is once again erected facing the sea.

Beyond infrastructure, Japan also insists on the importance of being prepared for all kinds of disasters.

From childhood, they learn to protect their heads and get under tables in case of earthquakes, carry out fire or tsunami drills, and observe which places in a building and their communities are safer to evacuate or take refuge, which they practice throughout their lives. EFE


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